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Owls 

Owls (Jade Tree)

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There's a line from one of the Madeline books (there's a lofty literary reference for you) that goes, "Gypsies never ever stay; they only come to go away." That couplet could have been tattooed on every member of Joan of Arc, the recently dissolved dadaist noise-pop aggregation led by singer-guitarist Tim Kinsellas. Joan of Arc was always in a state of flux, trembling on the edge of dissolution, never sure if the new album would be the last, if the next tour would be its farewell. By all accounts, Joan of Arc has breathed its last, and its last EP, delivered earlier this year, seemed to prove that breaking up was the right thing to do; on it, JOA sounded drained of any desire to make music -- or anything else, for that matter. In the wake of Joan of Arc's demise, Kinsellas re-formed his earliest band, a group known as the Owls, before it went on to become the lauded and lamented Cap'n Jazz.

At first blush, there isn't a vast gulf between JOA and the Owls on their eponymous debut. There are still plenty of jazz chops buried under the artifice of pop/punk, with Kinsellas warbling in a key only he can hear, like some postmodern Lou Reed or Neil Young. The swirling, shifting soundtrack is provided by drummer Mike Kinsella, guitarist Victor Villarreal, and bassist Sam Zurick, and stays primarily within the parameters that Kinsellas has exacted through most of his incarnations. Akin to Kinsellas's previous work, Owls is baffling in lyrical and musical construct ("What Whorse You Wrote Id On," "I Want the Blindingly Cute to Confide in Me"), while combining the punky lo-fi energy of Pavement with the jazzy blues undercurrent of Captain Beefheart to startlingly effective results. Like the best pop/jazz mutations, Kinsellas and the Owls have made something that sounds carelessly tossed off and improvised, but ultimately, upon closer scrutiny, reveals itself to be more tightly structured and composed.

More by Brian Baker

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